Friday, April 25, 2008


FIG 119

Before they figured out about chains or invented the penny-farthing, there was the dandy-horse.
This can be a useful bit of trivia if, say, you break your boyfriend's bike chain. Then you can say "I didn't break your bike, I made you a dandy-horse"

Source: the totally fascinating
Bicycles & Tricycles By Archibald Sharp
next stop: the front driving safety.

No Text

Singlespeed on the Super-Cheap and Easy

Boyfriend Scott's bike was making the telltale pop-pop-pop sound whenever he pedaled hard. Pop-pop-pop means "Replace my drive train! Pronto!"

I told him what was happening - the gears wear out and the chain stretches, and eventually you get the popping sound 'cause they don't fit together right any more. If you only replace the chain instead of both together, you'll still get the pop-pop sound because the new chain won't mesh right with the old gears. has a whole article about it, of course.

Scott asked me if I could switch it to a singlespeed, too. He's the "I only use the highest gear of my hybrid bike, anyway" version of singlespeed. So we pulled off his 7-speed freewheel, and switched in the not-very-worn 16-tooth freewheel that had just been sitting on the other side of the flip-flop hub on my fixie. And we did the ceremonial snipping of the cables and denuding of deraillers. His bike (a Raleigh C-30) has vertical dropouts, so I couldn't get the chain tension right, and the chainline (going from the big ring to where the little ring had been) was wack, so it kept throwing the chain. Ugh! I broke my boyfriend's bike! I sent him to BikeWorks for a half link, but that didn't resolve the problem.

There's a standard way around this, which is to re-space and re-dish the wheel from having room for a whole 7-speed freewheel to just enough room for a onesie. That seemed like way too much work for this bike. So I got him another chain, and came up with this hack. I'm sure this has been done before, because it's one of those things that feels so obvious when you stumble on it, but here it is for the taking:

Here's what I did: I put his derailler back on to use as a makeshift chain tensioner. For this to work, the derailler has to be locked in the right place. Ideally, you could do this with the limit screws, by dialing in the top and bottom limit screws so that the derailler won't budge in either direction. But limit screws are designed to keep the chain from falling off either end of the freewheel cluster, not to lock it in place somewhere in the middle. The lower limit will reach, but the top won't. So I dialed in the lower limit screw to hold the derailler in the right spot. Then I dropped a shortened piece of brake cable through the derailler and locked it in place by snugging the anchor bolt.

The result: A derailler with a hot second of cable that stays put inside the derailler itself. Neat-o, huh?

This could be way more simple and elegant if you have a decent hardware store handy. Get a screw or bolt that matches the diameter and pitch of your limit screws, but is about a centimeter longer. Replace your top limit with this one - you can put your derailler wherever you want it with no cables at all!

Purists, take note: I know I could take a few links out of the chain. I'm trying to convince Scott to use 42/16 instead of 52/16 because I want his knees to last. I'll pull the links if it works for him, otherwise he'll be rocking the big ring.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Happy Birthday, Clothespin Fence

The clothespin fence turned one on March tenth. I recently spent some time patching it. When I made it, I was imagining morning glory and sweet-pea chaff mixing in with the clothespins, but my morning glories didn't come up last year after all. It was a weird year - the daffodils didn't come up, and the evil black walnut tree didn't make stinkballs either. I'm loving the contrast of new wood against old. This week Scott gave me some bamboo pins that will make it to the fence, too - I wonder how they'll weather.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Because you Didn't / Fear Not

Last February I took a trip to DC to see the Joseph Cornell show at the Smithsonian. Cornell is like the Jonathan Richman of art - he goes to bakeries all day long, and he's just genuinely charming.

The Smithsonian also has this amazing altar-room thing called The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly. It's totally classic nutso outsider art - all the sparkles you're looking at are silver and gold tin foil. In the room with it, I overheard my new favorite definition of art:

Dude: I could have done that, it's just tinfoil, so how come it's art?

Dude's girlfriend: Because you didn't.

I was going to stop there, but reading the back-story when I found the pictures made it, of course, juicier. There's an essay you can read here and a zoom-y interactive thing of the whole piece here.

The altar was made by James Hampton. He started having religious visions in his early twenties, and when he was 41 he rented a garage to make his altar in. He worked on it there, mostly late at night after finishing his shift as a janitor, from 1950 to his death in 1964. It's made completely of scavenged material - he sometimes bought secondhand furniture and encrusted it with foil; lots of the insides are cardboard tubes, and in some places structural elements are just held together with wrapped tin foil. Somehow it also involves light bulbs and desk blotters.

Fourteen years is a really long time to make a tin foil altar.

Like lots of outsider art, nobody really knew what Hampton was up to until after he died and his landlord opened the garage. His family hadn't known about his project and didn't want to keep it. The National Museum of American Art did want it, so there it is. There's a subplot here, too - Hampton spent fourteen years talking to God in his garage, and what he left behind was spectacular in a way that appealed to a museum curator, which of course makes it even rarer.

It really appeals to me, too, in a kind of formal way, which is maybe weird to say about something that's all substance and no style - like all re-contextualized outsider art (he was making an altar, not a museum piece) it feels kind of like looking at somebody else's dirty pictures. I love how it's totally low-tech, self-taught, self-thought-up, how it feels transcendent and amateur at the same time. Which is something I've chased after a lot more cautiously, consciously or not, with the typewriter painting (old and unblogged) and the clothespin fence.

Today I'm wondering what "Fear Not" is about. First I was thinking about art and fear - You spend all this time on your own, holed up in your head/studio/garage, wherever, wondering whether what you're doing is awesome or laughable, but feeling totally driven to do it all the same. At least once, Hampton tried to let the world know what he was up to - he called the newspaper, and two reporters came out to see the garage and laughed at him. Ouch.

Then I searched the bible (did you know you can do that now? It's like totally text searchable online, and in umpteen languages and versions, of course) and he probably means this part of Isaiah -

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
God really likes him, right?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

It's Just Yarn-Overs

So this thing happened a while ago. I was working on the baby blanket for Hannah, and I showed it to Meghan (my therapist). She was kind of floored by it. I was like, "Well, you just go around and around on double-pointed needles, and these holes here are how you add stitches to it when you switch needles. Then later you add more stitches, and that makes it ruffle-y. It's just yarn-overs." She told me that she couldn't knit, and I didn't believe her. I amended it to "You don't know how to knit yet."

Or like another time Noah asked me if I built bikes - I've got three bikes that I ride (one for commuting, one for touring, and one for going fast) and I've put just about every part of each one where it is myself, including installing two out of three headsets and lacing and truing four of my six wheels. I told Noah no I don't build bikes, because I don't know how to weld - I don't build frames.

I have this kind of huge tendency to think that anybody else could be coming up with and doing the same things that I do. Like here's another story - the other day Scott was telling me about James Turrell, who bought himself a crater in New Mexico and has been transforming the shape of it with bulldozers so that when you're in the bottom of it it feels like the sky is upside down. Through a random coincidence I already knew about this - an ex went to school with his daughter, who got married in the crater. But what I thought was, "Oh, that's funny, I know another story about an artist with a crater." Like somehow my assumption was that a whole bunch of artists had craters - New Mexico must be full of them. Oh, that Spiral Jetty!

In a sense, it is just yarn-overs. I'm attracted to simple, do-able, low-talent, low-tech, often economically impossible forms of art-making. Knitting is really simple and repetitive, which is part of why it's so great. Just about anybody with a ton of time on their hands who can knit in the round can follow the pattern to make the anemone blanket - even the fringey bits are just cast-on-bind-off.

But also obviously the stuff I do is way more than yarn-overs. I've been thinking a lot lately about where this all comes from - the it's-just-yarn-overs thing touches down all over the place in my life, like punk rock, my family, my super-awesome grandpa, and my ideas about what art is what I want to use it for and why I do all this crafty, arty, fixit stuff in the first place.

This is gonna be super long, so I'll stop here for now, but I'm gonna keep poking at it and see what happens. Stay tuned.

(Illustration from Go there and learn all about increases.)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Dog Drawings against Breast Cancer!

Hey check this out - my friend the brilliant and talented Maria Sputnik is offering custom schwag to anyone who donates to support my breast cancer ride! She says -

if you donate money, I will draw a picture of your dog! And if you don't HAVE a dog, I'll draw a picture of what your dog would look like if you DID have one.

She started doing this for another friend who's doing a 39-mile breast cancer walk in Colorado, and she's generously offered to extend the favor to my readers here, too! Here are some of her awesome drawings:

You can see she's mad talented - can you guess who asked her for a yeti?

If you want to play along too, here's how:

make a donation of any size on my donation page to support Tour de Pink.

Then leave a comment on Maria Sputnik's lj page telling her what kind of drawing you want.

Thanks, Maria! Thanks, everybody!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Big Bike Ride Against Breast Cancer

Hi everybody -

This October, I'll be participating in the Tour de Pink, a 200-mile charity bike ride the whole way from Hershey, Pennsylvania to New York City to raise money for the Young Survival Coalition.

Those of you who know me pretty well know that I would probably find it easier to ride all 200 miles uphill and in the rain than hitting up all my friends, family, co-workers and blog readers for donations. But here goes: Breast cancer stinks. My grandma had it, my mom has had it, three of my five aunts have had to deal with it. Like everybody else, I hope for a time when my nieces and nephews won't have to worry about breast cancer. So please consider supporting me - you can make a donation here.

The ride benefits the Young Survival Coalition, the only international, non-profit network of breast cancer survivors and supporters dedicated to the concerns and issues that are unique to young women and breast cancer. The event costs are underwritten by the corporate sponsors, so anything you give will go straight to supporting the Coalition's vital work.
Thanks, and all the best!